This past November, I shared a car ride with a good friend of mine on the way to a Friendsgiving gathering outside of the city. Inevitably, in the spirit of the season, our conversations steered toward food, and since he had lived in the Greater Boston area for many years longer than I had, I inquired about breakfast spots. He had a few suggestions, but one stood out among the rest: The Neighborhood Restaurant- a tiny hole-in-the-wall family joint sandwiched between a healthcare center and a law office on Bow Street, one of the spokes emanating from the center of Somerville’s Union Square. Just across the street was a magical place that could turn a dozen donuts into a mediocre $36 purchase; a fact I had learned on the very same day of our drive North. “I know that place!” I exclaimed. It was a spot I had passed several times prior. The nondescript façade donned a bright blue awning that spanned the width of the storefront advertising the restaurant with plain white font and coffee cup decals. Under that awning is where a line would inevitably form out the front door on any given weekend morning as customers waited patiently for a seat. Call-to-order was typically the best option, advised my carpool companion. “You can call it in and pick up the linguiça egg and cheese bagel sandwich for $5… It’s my favorite breakfast sandwich anywhere.”
Union Square is somewhat of a recently-hip, uppity part of town that manages to find that balance between young people boasting of its low rent rates and the nagging paranoia of getting stabbed on a busy street at high noon; the kind of place where you would see a man sit alone in his 1990 Chevy Cavalier for hours with no explanation before slowly driving off to some unknown destination. For what it’s worth, it’s certainly a place to ‘go’ with its trinket shops, comic book store, and apparently good food. Thus, weeks after my car ride revelation, Union Square is where I found myself indeed. It was late morning on an unseasonably warm day after Christmas. The click of my bike lock punctuated a 10 minute ride from my apartment wherefrom I had phoned in the sandwich without even looking at the restaurant’s menu. (Who am I to question recommendations from a friend of good taste?) Stepping under the bright blue awning, I pushed the door open at the top of the uneven concrete steps and was greeted by the Neighborhood’s patrons, packed tightly from wall to wall; their bellies as full as the tiny dining room that stretched long ways to the back stairwell leading down to the basement/kitchen. A steady stream of even fuller plates of breakfasty goodness marched from below, and the smiles on the faces of diners and servers alike were a testament to the list of awards and accolades that decorated the lime-green walls. After a short wait trying to stand out of the way of foot traffic, my sandwich emerged from the depths of the establishment in its brown paper vessel. I bid the cashier adieu with a $10 bill.
Back into the sunshine I stepped, breakfast sandwich in hand and on the lookout for a proper seat to enjoy my first meal of the day. The Square lured me in, and I made my way towards the middle of it. As busy and bustling as the place is, there aren’t too many benches, so I settled upon one just outside of a Citizens Bank across from a modest island of greenery created by the intersecting roads around it. Just across that on the other side of the square lurked a shadowed storefront that once touted the phrase ‘Living Well.’ The signage of the now defunct business overtaken by the passage of time read something more like ‘Li in Hell.’ Nevertheless, I breathed in a refreshing lung-full as the morning sun warmed my body and I opened the bag…
The linguiça egg and cheese bagel sandwich comes wrapped in a modest sheet of waxy paper that only hopes to contain the dripping, greasy heft of the thing. I let gravity take its course and waited for a few drops to fall at my feet before wrapping both hands around the plump plain bagel holding in what looked to be two fried eggs (over hard) topped with cheese (probably American.) As I moved to make my first bite, an overwhelming sense of being watched took over me, most likely because I was actually being stared down by every driver passing by wondering why a man was sitting by himself in the middle of an otherwise barren square. If tumbleweeds had somehow found themselves in the Northeast, the purpose of their long journey would have been fully realized in that very moment. Despite my wandering thoughts on the matter, I sank my teeth in, however the expected tastes were interrupted by the plume of carcinogens that had suddenly infiltrated my nostrils. Just behind me, an irate bank employee had just started his smoke break. After chewing the delightful mix of ingredients for a few seconds, the true flavors made their way through to the forefront of my senses, battling with the loud phone conversation the banker was now simultaneously subjecting me to. I pretended not to notice his blatant intrusions and carried on valiantly, bite after massive bite.
In the few minutes that passed, a slow-to-change red light down the street built up a line of traffic which was now obstructing my perfectly good view of the patch of greenery across the street, and I had no better choice than to retreat back into my own thoughts. After some other ruminations and wanderings of the mind, the deafening ‘TSK’ of a bus’s air brakes shook me back into consciousness as it roared on down the road. Before I knew it, I had fully consumed my linguiça egg and cheese bagel sandwich. Admittedly, because of my lack of self-education on the matter, I didn’t even know what ‘linguiça’ was until I bit into it- a Portugese smoked pork of some kind. Prior to this discovery, I postulated that maybe the sandwich was named after the owner’s daughter or some faraway place with beaches of gold. Regardless, the whole thing was goddamn delicious- pork and all. 10 out of 10 with a typical Union Square moment on top.